Historic Chinsegut Hill

Tampa Bay History Center Partners with Hernando County
to Reopen Historic Chinsegut Hill Property

The Tampa Bay History Center has entered into a unique partnership with Hernando County to provide curatorial and interpretive services for historic Chinsegut Hill, one of Florida’s few remaining pre-Civil War plantation sites.

Located on the second-highest point in the State of Florida, Chinsegut Hill includes an 1850s-era house and largely unspoiled 114-acre preserve.

The site has been witness to the gatherings of Florida’s early people dating back thousands of years, to pioneers settling at the time of the Second Seminole War, and to the dark chapters of slavery in the state.  During the 1920s and 1930s, new owners of the home hosted such luminaries as Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and others.

“Our focus has always been the greater Tampa Bay area, and this is an opportunity to help preserve and tell important stories that shaped Florida history,” said C.J. Roberts, the History Center’s President and CEO. “It’s a natural fit for the History Center, which has built a reputation for partnering with local governments, universities and area organizations to document and disseminate Florida’s rich history.”

Tampa Bay History Center Partners with Hernando County to Reopen Historic Chinsegut Hill Property

The Tampa Bay History Center has entered into a unique partnership with Hernando County to provide curatorial and interpretive services for historic Chinsegut Hill, one of Florida’s few remaining pre-Civil War plantation sites.

Located on the second-highest point in the State of Florida, Chinsegut Hill includes an 1850s-era house and largely unspoiled 114-acre preserve.

The site has been witness to the gatherings of Florida’s early people dating back thousands of years, to pioneers settling at the time of the Second Seminole War, and to the dark chapters of slavery in the state.  During the 1920s and 1930s, new owners of the home hosted such luminaries as Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and others.

“Our focus has always been the greater Tampa Bay area, and this is an opportunity to help preserve and tell important stories that shaped Florida history,” said C.J. Roberts, the History Center’s President and CEO. “It’s a natural fit for the History Center, which has built a reputation for partnering with local governments, universities and area organizations to document and disseminate Florida’s rich history.”

The History Center will provide artifact interpretation and tours of the historic house and grounds.

Tampa Bay History Center Trustees Curtis Stokes and Janet Nichols talk with History Center President and CEO C.J. Roberts on a recent visit to Chinsegut.

History Center staff tour the Chinsegut manor house with Tammy Heon, tourism and development manager for Hernando County.

 

 

A Smithsonian Affiliate and an American Alliance of Museums-accredited institution, the Tampa Bay History Center focuses on “Historic Hillsborough” County, which in the mid-19th century comprised much of the Gulf coast, including all or part of 24 present-day counties, from near Ocala to Lake Okeechobee.

“We are excited to help tell the story of Chinsegut Hill and ensure that this important historic site is open and accessible to the people of Hernando County and all of Florida’s residents and visitors,” said Roberts.

Over the years, Chinsegut Hill has hosted weddings, events and museum guests. The site closed to the public in June 2019.

The Hernando County Commission unanimously voted this week to approve a new contract for the Tampa Bay History Center to operate the site. Ownership of the property will remain with Hernando County.

“The Tampa Bay History Center’s ability to tell the stories of this historic and beloved Hernando County landmark is something we are most excited about,” said Hernando County Administrator Jeff Rogers. “The expertise and available resources they can provide will help propel Chinsegut Hill into a positive and healthy future.”

The History Center will undertake research and inventory of historic artifacts, develop historic markers and other interpretive elements, and work with Hernando County and local community groups to interpret the property and make it accessible to the general public. Initial plans call for reopening in late summer of 2020, beginning with weekend hours.

 

For more information, call 813.228.0097.

HISTORY OF CHINSEGUT HILL

After the Second Seminole War ended in 1842, U.S. settlers moved into present-day Hernando County. One of these settlers was Bird M. Pearson, a future Florida Supreme Court Justice. Pearson moved his family and roughly thirty enslaved persons to today’s Chinsegut Hill, where he built the homestead’s first structures and attempted to establish a profitable plantation growing sugar cane and other crops.

A few years later Pearson sold the property to Francis Ederington. Like Pearson, Ederington desired to establish a successful agricultural enterprise founded on the labor of the enslaved. He also practiced law and was involved in local timber harvesting and transporting.

After Francis’s death, Charlotte Ederington Snow and Dr. Joseph Russell Snow acquired the property. Joseph was a dentist and state politician. He served on the local county commission and was a state-level lawmaker in Tallahassee. The family grew crops on their land, but hard freezes in the 1890s devastated their citrus trees. To make matters worse, the home was blown off its foundation by a storm.

In 1904 Raymond Robins and Margaret Drier Robins purchased the property and repaired the house. They also renamed the property Chinsegut Hill. The home and grounds served as an estate and a retreat for the couple, both of whom were involved in progressive political causes, like women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. The Robins entertained a number of famous Americans at Chinsegut, including Thomas Edison, writer Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Helen Keller.

The Robins suffered severe losses during the Great Depression and they deeded Chinsegut to the federal government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted agricultural research at Chinsegut that it hoped would benefit Florida farmers. Per their agreement with the federal government, the Robins lived at Chinsegut until their deaths.

Later the property was run by the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, and, most recently, the Friends of Chinsegut Hill.

1842: The Armed Occupation Act offers homesteaders Florida land.

1840s-1852: Bird Pearson acquires a Florida homestead and moves his family to Hernando County. The family brings with them approximately 30 enslaved persons. Bird practices law and attempts to establish a plantation.

1852-1866: The Ederington family acquires the property from Pearson in 1852. Like Bird Pearson, Ederington is a lawyer and slave owner who attempts to establish a plantation. While living in Hernando he acquires more land, is involved in the timber business, and builds a new home on the hill. That home was the first version of the current manor house.

 1866-1904: Charlotte Ederington Snow and Dr. Joseph Russell Snow acquire the property. Joseph was a dentist and state politician. He served on the local county commission and as a state-level lawmaker in Tallahassee. The family grew crops on their land, but freezes in the 1890s devastated their citrus trees.

1904-1932: In 1904 Raymond Robins and Margaret Robins acquired the property, repaired the house, and named it Chinsegut Hill. The couple was actively involved in Progressive political causes. They advocated for greater rights for women, the working class, and the impoverished. They entertained famous Americans at the home, including Thomas Edison, J.C. Penney, and Helen Keller.

1932-1954: Raymond and Margaret deeded over 2,000 acres of their Hernando County property to the U.S. federal government for $1 during the Great Depression. The agreement, however, stipulated that the Robins could live there until their deaths. The U.S. government’s Civilian Conservation Corps established a camp at Chinsegut and conducted agricultural research and conservation projects.

1954-1958: The U.S. Department of Agriculture deeded the manor house and the 114 acres around it to the University of Florida.

1958: The house and 114-acre property was leased to the University of South Florida for a $1 per year.

2008-2019: The Friends of Chinsegut Hill group operated the property.

Tampa Bay History Center President and CEO C.J. Roberts and Hernando County Administrator Jeff Rogers on a recent site visit to Chinsegut Hill.

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